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Berlin and the Men's Marathon World Record

The BMW BERLIN-MARATHON has taken sole ownership of the men's world record since the turn of the century.

The flat, broad streets and forgiving, sweeping corners of the famous course have repeatedly provided the stage for a Who's-Who of endurance running to drive down the world-leading mark, as champion after champion has raised his arms in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.

Over the past two decades, the German capital has witnessed athletes re-write the book on what is physically possible in the marathon. 

But how has the record evolved since 2000, and what role has Berlin's course had in this remarkable journey?

The Turn of the Century (2000-2001)
As the world entered the new millennium, the record stood at 2:05:38, set by Khalid Khannouchi of Morocco in Chicago in 1999. It would be nearly four years before a series of groundbreaking performances would begin lowering that time, and they would all happen in Berlin.

Paul Tergat's Historic Run (2003)
In September 2003, Kenya's Paul Tergat shattered the record. He completed the race in 2:04:55, becoming the first person to break the 2:05 barrier. Tergat's performance was a testament to his exceptional talent and marked a significant milestone in the marathon's history.

Paul Tergat breaks Khalid Khannouchi's four-year-old world record to in the 2003 Berlin Marathon

Haile Gebrselassie's Dominance (2007)
After transitioning to the road following a glittering track career that included two Olympic 10,000m golds, Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie sliced an incredible 29 seconds off Tergat’s 2003 time. 

In the second of his remarkable run of four wins in Berlin, Gebrselassie completed the course in 2:04:26, establishing himself as one of the greatest distance runners ever.

By now, Berlin's flat and fast course and favorable weather conditions had become synonymous with record-breaking.

That reputation would continue to grow in 2008 when Gebrselassie completed his hat-trick and bettered his previous time by 27 seconds, to become the first man to ever run a sub 2:04 marathon.

Haile Gebrselassie won the Berlin Marathon four times in succession between 2006 and 2009

The Arrival Of The Kenyans (2011)
Gebrselassie's time was to stand for three years before a series of performances by Kenyan athletes obliterated the benchmark.

First came Patrick Makau, in 2011, who stunned the running world by breaking from the pack and holding off Gebrselassie to win by more than four minutes and push the record down to 2:03:38.

Two years later, Wilson Kipsang took another 15 seconds off the time, setting the bar at 2:03:23 and finishing clear of a certain Eliud Kipchoge, on the way to his second AbbottWMM race victory.

Wilson Kipsang wins the 2013 Berlin Marathon with a time of 2:03:23

Breaking the 2:03 Barrier (2014)
Just 12 months later, the record fell again, as another Kenyan, Dennis Kimetto, etched his name into the record books with 2:02:57 to become the first man in history to break the 2:03 barrier. His achievement was celebrated as a testament to both his ability and the ideal conditions Berlin offered for marathon racing.

In 2013, Dennis Kimetto became the first man to break 2:03:00

Kipchoge's Reign Begins (2018)
While Kimetto's achievement was marveled at, his days at the top were numbered as his compatriot, Eliud Kipchoge emerged as the undisputed best in the world.

The man from Kaptagat strung five Major victories together from 2014 to 2017, including two Berlin titles, two London wins and Olympic gold in Brazil.

2018 was to represent the start of the reign of Kipchoge as the world record holder as the sport took a quantum leap thanks to the marriage of Kipchoge's generational talent and the advance in racing shoe technology that had begun to emerge.

Allying those two factors with Berlin's already-fast roads was a recipe for marathon magic.

On a still, sun-bleached morning, Kipchoge obliterated the world record, crossing the finish line in a mind-boggling time of 2:01:39.

He was almost dethroned on the same streets a year later when Ethiopia's Kenenesa Bekele ran 2:01:41, becoming the second man under the 2:02 barrier under race conditions. The bar had been raised, and others were showing they could live with Kipchoge.


Ineos 1:59 Challenge (2019)

While not an official world record due to the controlled conditions of the event, Kipchoge achieved what many considered impossible in October 2019 during the Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna. 

With the latest iteration of running shoe and a phalanx of interchangeable pacers shielding his every step from oncoming breezes up and down the looped circuit in the Austrian capital, he completed a marathon in under two hours, finishing at 1:59:40.

In 2019, Eliud Kipchoge showed the world that a sub-two hour marathon was possible

Kipchoge does it again (2022)
The years following Ineos 1:59 were disruptive for Kipchoge. COVID-19 put paid to any plans for a spring marathon as well as the Tokyo Olympics, where he would aim for a second gold medal.

Instead, he arrived in London in October and finished eighth on a soaking wet day where a blocked ear was blamed for his below-par performance on the quiet, COVID-secure, closed loop course.

He put that hiccup behind him by claiming gold in Tokyo at the delayed Games of 2021, and in spring 2022 he ripped up the course record at the Tokyo Marathon before training his guns on Berlin once more.

He did not miss.

The city provided near-perfect conditions once again, and Kipchoge blazed to 59:50 at halfway, the same split he recorded during the Ineos 1:59 project. He went on to stop the clock at an unimaginable 2:01:09, bringing a sub 2:01 marathon in official race conditions well within the bounds of possibility.

After a disappointing day for Kipchoge at this year's Boston Marathon, where his hopes to become the first runner to win all six AbbottWMM races were handed a significant blow, we await to see how the G.O.A.T. will respond in the familiar, fast surroundings of a city that has been such a happy hunting ground.

The 2:01:25 achieved by Kelvin Kiptum at this year's 2023 TCS London Marathon is now the second fastest time in history, and has sent a warning shot across Kipchoge's bows. The younger man is coming for him.

Kiptum's next outing comes in Chicago, two weeks after Berlin. Can Kipchoge move the target before Kiptum gets the chance to take aim?

With its proud history behind it, Berlin will be hoping he can ensure the men's world record extends its stay in Germany.

Read the elite women's preview here.

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